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Missouri River Closure For High Water Affects Businesses, Recreation

Katie Peikes
IPR file
The Missouri River at Sioux City was at 25.4 feet at 5:30 p.m. on June 10. Action stage is 25 feet. The river remains above minor flood stage near southwest Iowa.

It’s been several days since high water forced the U.S. Coast Guard to close a 750 mile stretch of the Missouri River to boat and barge traffic. The closure is hurting some businesses that rely on the river.
The Coast Guard is allowing some vessels to be out between St. Louis, Mo. to Sioux City, Ia. to help restore levees and fight flooding. But commercial towing businesses like Missouri River Towing are out of luck for now. Steve Engemann, president of the company, says his business based in Hermann, Mo. depends on the river to operate and make an income.

“We have fertilizer waiting to go north and grain waiting to go south, about 15 modes of freight sitting there in Hermann,” Engemann said.

Engemann said he is hopeful they can get moving again next week. It’s unclear when the Captain of the Port will lift the closure.

The high waters also mean people cannot use boats to recreate on the river. Brian Smith, a captain with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Bureau, says this will affect a lot of people who water ski, canoe or kayak.

“A lot of folks, that’s kind of their nearly every weekend habit, is to go out and float or water ski or boat or fish on the Missouri River,” Smith said.

People tend to avoid recreating on the river even if there isn't an official closure, like when there's lots of debris floating down it or the water is high and there is an unofficial closure, he said.

"People stay off the river when it's high, for safety reasons," Smith said.

When people can’t recreate on the Missouri, they tend to gravitate towards nearby lakes, like Lake Manawa or Carter Lake in Pottawattamie County, Smith said.

Smith said the DNR has not yet been given any sort of update or forecast about a reopening date from the Coast Guard.

The closure began June 6. It will remain until the Captain of the Port says otherwise. The Coast Guard could not be reached for comment.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.